The Best Known Of The Belgians

Possessor of the world’s most famous “little gray cells,” Hercule Poirot can also claim to be Belgium’s best-known citizen.

His life and adventures are documented in a series of books, related mostly by Capt. Arthur Hastings to Agatha Christie.

Poirot was born in the middle of the last century and raised in Spa with his twin brother Achille, whose tragic early death is related in “The Big Four” (1927). He served the Belgian police force with distinction until his retirement in 1904. Had he died then, he already would have been a hero in Belgium, but it was his subsequent career as a private investigator in England that brought him international acclaim.

Following the invasion of his homeland, he fled to the U.K. in 1914. There he assisted Inspector James Japp of Scotland Yard, with whom he had worked previously as a Belgian policeman. It was his association with Capt. Hastings, however, that made his name.

Their first published case was “The Mysterious Affair At Styles” (1920), in the course of which Hastings offered a description of the great detective: “Poirot was an extraordinary-looking man. He was hardly more than 5 foot 4, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little to one side. His mustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.”

The hero of some 40 books published between 1920 and 1975, Poirot’s career as a private investigator almost precisely matched what scholars have called “the Golden Age of detective fiction.” His death, detailed in “Curtains” (1975), took place with fitting circularity at Styles Court, the place of his first great triumph; it saw him once more reunited with Hastings, who had settled in Argentina in the ’30s. “These have been good days,” he wrote in a valedictory note to his transcriber.

So successful were Agatha Christie’s adaptations of his adventures that many were filmed. The first actor to impersonate Poirot was Austin Trevor in the British film “Alibi” (1931), a reworking of possibly Poirot’s greatest case, “The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd” (1926).

Among other actors who have essayed the role of Poirot are Tony Randall (“The A.B.C. Murders,” 1966, which also features Margaret Rutherford in the role of Miss Marple, another noted amateur sleuth whose adventures were transcribed by Christie), Albert Finney (“Murder On The Orient Express,” 1974) and Peter Ustinov (“Death On The Nile,” 1978, and “Evil Under The Sun,” 1982). David Suchet is currently in the role in the U.K. teleseries “Poirot.”

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